N.C. Art Towns

The 100 Best Art Towns in America

Three North Carolina cities — Asheville, Carrboro, and Wilmington — are listed in the fourth edition of John Villani’s The 100 Best Art Towns in America (The Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vt., 2005). Naturally, we think that there are many more communities in our state that are worth a visit from the arts-minded, but we should point out that none of the states neighboring North Carolina has as many as three towns listed. Not that we’re keeping score or anything.

Western NC Reads …

It’s too late to vote now, and good thing, because it would have been a tough choice. Readers in western North Carolina had to select between these titles for the 2006 “Together We Read” program: Anthology of Regional Folk Tales, Sharyn McCrumb’s The Ballad of Frankie Silver, Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies, Gail Godwin’s A Mother and Two Daughters, and Ron Rash’s Saints at the River.

And the winner is . . . Saints at the River, Ron Rash’s 2004 novel, set in western South Carolina, about the death of a young girl and the environmental concerns that grip a small town.

Donner Party

Speaking of barbecue, the Donner Party is in the news again. The News & Observer recently ran a story entitled “Donners May Not Have Been Cannibals After All.” Why are we mentioning this here? It turns out that the most famous would-be man-eaters in American history were native Tar Heels.

George and Jacob Donner were born in Rowan County in the 1780s. Like many of their neighbors, they had a difficult time in North Carolina and headed for more promising lands out west. The Donners moved to Kentucky in 1818, then to Illinois ten years later. The family settled near Springfield for a few decades, but grew restless again and in 1846 they began their ill-fated trip to California.


North Carolina Historical Review

We’re excited to see barbecue working its way into the academy — and not just in the dining halls. The North Carolina Literary Review may have started the trend when, in its 1997 issue, it listed William Harmon in the masthead as “Barbecue Editor.”

The October 2005 North Carolina Historical Review (shown at left with a nice cover photograph from the North Carolina Collection) features an article by Pfeiffer University faculty member Michael D. Thompson entitled “‘Everything but the Squeal’: Pork as Culture in Eastern North Carolina.” The article contains a history of the consumption of pork in North Carolina and discusses the evolution of barbecue from a unheralded culinary staple to a celebrated tradition. Thompson closes with a call to fellow scholars to take barbecue from the roadside restaurant into the classroom:

Memories triggered by the smell of pork on the grill, debates over regional barbecue styles, and the introduction of newcomers to this historical southern food ensure that the traditions of eating and preparing pork will survive — in family-owned barbecue restaurants, in pork-centered festivals held throughout the region, and in the work of scholars who continue to explore the role of pork as a critical cultural marker for eastern North Carolina and for the South.

When the inevitable happens, and some university has the sense to offer a BBQ PhD, we just hope it’s a North Carolina school.

Book of Books

Penland Book of Books

The death of the book (and the library, too) has been proclaimed over and over again in recent years, but a trip to western North Carolina will show that the age-old art of making books by hand is alive and well. We’ve been looking through The Penland Book of Handmade Books, a collaboration between Lark Books and the Penland School of Crafts. The book includes ten features on current book artists, all of whom have taught classes at Penland. These are not your traditional library books. From the covers to the pages to the display of text, these creative works challenge and re-imagine the very idea of a book, and, together, celebrate a format that is hardly on the decline: at Penland, at least, books are thriving.

Robert Ruark Revisited

Robert Ruark Bookplate

North Carolina novelist Robert Ruark, who died in 1965, continues to have a small but devoted following. The Wilmington native and UNC alumnus is perhaps best known for his novel The Old Man and the Boy (1957). He was an active sportsman and traveller, and his devotion to these themes in his work meant that he was often eclipsed by the figure of Ernest Hemingway. Nonetheless there appears to be something of a Ruark renaissance these days. There is an active Robert Ruark Society, a Robert Ruark Foundation in Southport, an exhibit on Ruark is being planned for the Chapel Hill Museum, and yesterday’s Wilmington Star-News ran a nice profile of the author.

The image shown here is of a bookplate from Robert Ruark’s personal library, some volumes of which are now housed at UNC-Chapel Hill.